For the past four days, I have cried and smiled.
Cried because I mourn the death of the people innocently killed in my city, and smiled because of the tremendous, generous acts I have seen from others as we rebuild.
The attack has caused me physical pain; there are times when I have sat in solitude with no words, just tears about what has happened on my doorstep.
The landmarks that are being referred to in the news are in my city, less than 20 minutes drive from where I live.
The terror has come home.
The charity work I have been actively doing for years, that is supporting parents after their child has died, feels even more significant now following the tragedy that has unfolded here in my city.
Except that, this wasn’t an illness, or a miscarriage or a stillbirth, this was murder, well planned, calculated and executed for maximum effect. Young lives were taken.
All life is sacred, but when a young life is taken so violently, it hits us even more.
The hope and dreams of the parents, their plans for a future with their children, shattered in an instant of cold-blooded slaughter.
Lives changed forever.
I have listened to the radio.
I have listened to the cries of the parents whose children have died.
I have listened to the people of Manchester who are outraged by what has happened. I have listened to those who have chosen to use the words Muslim and terrorist synonymously.
I have listened to those who have condemned my faith.
I have listened to those who have supported my faith and encouraged open, honest communication.
This week, I think I’ve spoken to more people about my faith than I have done for years.
I’ve invited more dialogue, more transparent, honest discussion in the past four days than ever before.
I’ve been on the ground talking, communicating to others: parents on my school drop offs, advising how to explain this attack to our young people, going to the local supermarkets and sharing in the pain of how we feel about the horrific atrocity and the people who were killed.
Because my city, Manchester, home to my children, home to my family, was violated and the perpetrator claimed my religion as the reason for his actions.
And this is simply not on, this is simply not acceptable.
Of course this isn't the first time.
Attacks have taken place before, but when it happens on your doorstep, when women and children are predominantly the victims and when your city is in the eye of the storm, it somehow hits you harder.
My family, friends, neighbours, colleagues and clients describe me as someone who cares deeply about others.
The essence of me, that kindness, the part of me that wants to reach out to the depths of others people's hearts, comes from my faith. It stems from my love of God.
One of the first verses of the Quran I memorised was, “Be just, it is closest to God Consciousness”.
I have reflected on this verse many times, in my actions, in my speech, in my treatment towards others.
I’m constantly asking myself questions like “Am I being just here?” “Am I being kind here?” “Is this what my Lord would be happy with?”
My children regularly chant with laughter, “My mummy said, be kind, be just and don’t be a doormat.”
They know exactly what each word means and why it is important to treat others and yourself with kindness, why you cannot harm or be horrible or nasty to others.
I have taught them this because this is what my faith teaches me.
I never imagined as a parent I would be explaining to my 5-year old what a nasty man did in our city.
In all honesty, I had to practice it beforehand, so my little one would understand why the school would be engaged in a minute’s silence.
We teach kindness in our home.
We express love every day.
There are countless hugs that take place daily.
When I shared what had happened, my child thought it was a story and didn’t want to believe it was true.
I was asked, “Did you make that up? Which book is that story from? Tell me another story, nicer than that one.”
I replied that this was a true story and it happened in our city.
Then there was silence; I will give my children space and respect their questions.
In fact the very reason why my husband and I are raising three adopted children, children we love and adore incredibly, children who were not born to me, children that did not come from my womb, is because of our love for our Lord who teaches us to be kind and just.
The love that I have when I’m travelling and the conversations I have with others is because of my love for humanity and that love for humanity comes from my love of my Lord who taught me to be kind and giving.
For those of you who know me, I never shy from talking about my faith, why I am a Muslim, why I consciously choose to practice my faith.
I have many non Muslim friends, of all faiths, and many friends with no faith, and when we get together, we talk openly, we talk about our differences in belief and in practice, and we celebrate our similarities.
The reason I love my faith is because of what it teaches me in how to treat others, even how to treat animals and insects.
I remember when I was very young, we had an ant infestation in our back yard. I ran into the kitchen, filled a container with water from the hot tap and was to pour water over the ants to make them go away.
My mum taught me never to use hot water on any insect as it would hurt them.
I remember saying, “Mum it’s only ants,” but she replied, “Even ants hurt! These are creations of God, be kind to them.”
I water the plants in my garden and in my home mindfully as they are the creation of God.
This is the level of kindness and compassion my faith teaches me.
This is why I love and practice my faith.
The cowardly, senseless act on Monday night was an act of evil; this is not what my faith, my religion teaches.
This act was not representative of my faith and it’s teachings and what Prophet Muhammad taught us.
In fact, Prophet Muhammad said, “Love for humanity what you love for yourself”.
Understandably, I have been asked, “if your faith teaches you this why has this person killed so many?”
I’m asking the same question.
Just because a person carries out an act in the name of religion, does not mean they are right, or that the act has anything to do with their religion.
I don’t have the answers.
I have read and listened to the arguments that he attended a mosque in Manchester in the past, and somehow this contributed to his radicalisation.
The mosque being referred to is my local mosque, Manchester Islamic Centre, or Didsbury Mosque.
It is the place where my husband and I go to pray, the place where we have sat and listened to sermons, the place where I have taught, and the place I have been taught.
It’s the most beautiful community I have ever been part of and it leads in Manchester in openly inviting people of other faiths and none to attend talks, participate in discussions, enjoin tours around the centre, get to know Islam, and meet Muslims, perhaps for the very first time.
Didsbury Mosque is actually a converted church.
History teaches us that the previous owners were offered more money by a supermarket chain in the 1960s to convert the church into a supermarket.
But the church owners were adamant they wanted the building to remain a place of worship, a home to people of faith, so they sold it a group of Muslims.
Fifty years on and Didsbury Mosque is still there for the community, the congregation has multiplied and more and more non Muslims are visiting it.
Nothing can justify what happened on Monday night.
But I hope and pray that Manchester comes together, human to human, after the headlines have subsided and a new normal begins to establish in the weeks and months ahead.
I am so grateful and pleased with how my city has responded, and I pray for the families of Saffie Rose Roussos, Courtney Boyle, Philip Tron, Elaine McIver, Wendy Fawell, Eilidh MacLeod, Chloe Rutherford, Liam Curry, Michelle Kiss, Sorrell Leczkowski, Olivia Campbell, Martyn Hett, Nell Jones, Alison Howe, Lisa Lees, Jane Tweddle-Taylor, Angelika Klis, Marcin Klis, Kelly Brewster, John Atkinson and Georgina Callander.
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